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NOAA Investigates Unusual Humpback Whale Die Off In The East Coast

28 April 2017, 7:11 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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Humpback whales seen under the Golden Gate Bridge

Last year saw an unusually high number of humpback whale deaths all along the East Coast. As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is conducting an investigation to find an answer regarding the uncommon die off.

Unusual Mortality Event

Since last year and until recently, the NOAA has seen a spike in the number of mysterious humpback whale deaths that span from the territories of Maine through North Carolina.

On a regular year, the number of humpback whale deaths in the region is averaged at 14, but last year saw a whopping 41 humpback whale deaths in the area, and 2017 has recorded 15 so far as of April 24.

Due to this spike in mortality rate, the NOAA Fisheries declared the deaths along the East Coast as an "unusual mortality event," hence prompting immediate action and expert investigation as to the cause of these deaths.

The last unusual mortality event was declared in 2006.

Blunt Force Trauma

Among the 41 humpback whales that died last year, 20 of them have been examined and 10 have shown evidence of blunt force trauma.

However, though vessel strikes have been recorded in various locations in the area such as in New York and New Hampshire, there was no significant spike in ship traffic in the area. What's more, Greg Silber of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources said that there are a number of factors that may have caused the whales to move closer to shipping routes, that perhaps they were following their prey.

Just recently, though, a study found that 14.7 percent of whales in the Maine and New Hampshire coasts have at least one vessel strike injury.

The current investigation will involve collecting data that can lead to the major cause of death for these animals, including environmental and human-caused threats.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

Humpback whales are no longer on the endangered species list since last September, but they are still covered by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects all marine mammals including seals, manatees, dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, polar bears, and other whale species.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which was amended in 1994, removing marine mammals from their habitats without permit is deemed as illegal, hence harassing, killing, collecting a marine mammal or a part of its body are prohibited.

Further, the act protects marine mammal health and stranding response program, which improves the response rates for stranding, as well as unusual mortality events.

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